Breaking through to the higher levels of cultivation required not only a certain amount of understanding and sufficient accumulation, but also an impetus to push a cultivator over the edge. One month prior, Luctus Tenebach had absorbed the spiritual energy from the body of the strange darkness creature that had roamed across the lands. Now it was known to the other local sects in the Stone Conglomerate that he was planning to break through at any time, needing just one final spark.
The price of spirit darkness and darkness element treasures shot up in Marble County and the surrounding regions of the Stone Conglomerate, not that there were many to begin with. Most were bought up by enterprising merchants who wanted to offer them to the Tenebach clan at an inflated rate. Others were purchased by rivals, who planned to hold onto them until a later time and eventually recoup the cost.
John found himself sitting in an auction, where he was planning to bid on any of a few items that would be available. The Tenebach clan had already snatched up what they could in Marble County, and he’d had to travel about halfway across the country to Microcline City. The auction was being hosted by the Agate Trading House, a rival of the Diamond Trading Company. Of course, any big group of merchants was a rival for any of the others, but these had some particular history.
That didn’t matter to John, however. He was planning to bid on certain items, and their origins hardly mattered. Of course, he would not be without competition. The Tenebach clan was not the only group of darkness cultivators in the Stone Conglomerate, and there were in fact those with significant standing closer to Microcline City. John spotted the head of the Nurturing Shadow Sect as well as some others. He bore them no ill will, but sometimes things just had to be done.
The first item of interest was a simple jar of condensed spirit darkness. It didn’t necessarily need to be contained, but a proper vessel made it easier to contain and transport while preventing possible contamination. But despite the intangible nature of darkness, the spirit darkness wasn’t a liquid or gas. Closer to a solid… or perhaps something like cotton, porous but held together.
Bids began quickly, with John throwing out a high bid early to try to drive off some of the others. But with the prices being affected to some degree even half a country away, people were willing to spend more than normal for darkness element items. John dropped out not long afterwards, with the Nurturing Shadow Sect claiming the prize.
Next was a darkness element natural treasure. Such things varied in utility, but John found them particularly strange as they took the form of human-made objects. He even had one attuned to himself, the urn that absorbed bones. The creature they had hunted didn’t have bones of its own so he wasn’t able to make real use of it there, but he’d found it useful throughout his cultivation career.
The item on auction was a salve jar, which apparently enhanced healing ointments placed inside of it, though rendered them only suitable for use by those attuned to darkness. The auctioneer- surprisingly a middle aged man instead of the standard attractive woman- described its uses, and the fact that it could even help recover old wounds. “For those of you who can use it… it would be a mistake to let it by. Injuries can pile up as you cultivate, if you’re not careful.”
John bit his lip. This wouldn’t be a direct aid to his grandfather’s cultivation, but was still quite useful. He injected himself into the bidding at a more moderate price point. He wanted to save some funds for later, if possible. Enough to win another item at least. The Tenebach clan was willing to expend resources for this endeavor, but even for their old patriarch there was only so much they could afford.
It wasn’t long before John was outbid, and he raised the price once more. Yet it was a mere instant before someone called out a higher price. He looked to the new competitor, and quickly recognized him. It was Bashkim Shehu of the Diamond Trading Company. John wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence or he’d learned of their coming. Either way, John wasn’t willing to place more bids for that particular item. It ended up going to a scarred old man who just barely radiated the aura of Consolidated Soul Phase. He seemed to be an independent who had saved up money specifically for that item, and John wasn’t willing to compete at that level.
There were a few other minor items that might have been of use to Luctus, but John only put in halfhearted bids. Some were won by the Nurturing Shadow Sect or others, and a couple Bashkim directly outbid John. The man could likely afford the losses, and the items could be resold anyway. John doubted they would go for more unless anyone became particularly impatient about current prices, but he also wasn’t raised as a merchant- though his training in the clan made him at least reasonably aware of finances. It was just that generally weren’t in the business of reselling things they could use themselves.
Then the time came for the big item of interest, at least for those darkness cultivators attending the auction. The heart of a shadow drake, one that had achieved at least fifty years of age. A rare creature that grew to great size, as could be seen by the half meter wide box the heart was contained in. The box itself wouldn’t be cheap, as it had special enchantments to prevent decay. As for the heart… to the people who needed it, it was priceless.
John did his best to not look too eager, but he couldn’t hide some genuine desire on his face. If he had that, he could smoothly transition to the Consolidated Soul Phase once he’d taken the time to reach the peak of the twenty-seventh rank. It was certainly quite a tempting thought.
Bids went up by small increments at first as a dozen people basically just declared their interest with a bid. Nobody initially tried any large bids to intimidate people, and John only added just over the minimum increase. A short time later the price had increased to the point it was worth a month of the Tenebach clan’s income. That was net income, as they had many ongoing expenses to pay for, but it was becoming a significant investment.
John’s eyes lit up with fire, though the actual amount of fire was minimal. More than basically everyone else present, though. Soon it became clear his real rivals were the Nurturing Shadow Sect and the merchant Bashkim. A few people timidly inserted bids between them, but John could see people dejectedly dropping out one at a time.
The price had climbed to three months of the Tenebach Clan’s income, by John’s count. Expensive, but a Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator was worth more than money. John raised the price by ten percent, but Bashkim immediately jumped the price by by almost a third. John bit his lip, but before he could make another bid the Nurturing Shadow Sect increased the price by the same amount as Bashkim. They were clearly planning to make a strong investment in someone as well.
John raised the price once more, to approximately half a year of the Tenebach Clan’s wealth. He had no way to compare that to money he’d had on Earth, but it was far beyond what he was managing at a burger store. The margins on food service could be quite slim, and even the building had only been worth so much.
The rest of the bidding happened at an almost frantic pace, just like an actual battle. Except the only winner would be the auction house. Bashkim and the Sect traded back and forth several times, before John raised the price by a significant margin, jumping up to a full year of the Tenebach Clan’s income. He glared at Bashkim, as if daring him to outbid the Tenebach clan. He might have made a verbal taunt, but chatter outside of bids was frowned upon. But sharp glares and raised spiritual energy were tacitly encouraged.
John watched as Bashkim hesitated for a moment, then bid once more, raising the price by another ten percent. John sighed. The Tenebach clan really couldn’t afford any more than that. What a shame. He’d have to seek an opportunity elsewhere.
Perhaps it was the money burning a hole in his pocket, or perhaps it was simply a whim. Either way, a few bids later a fire element headband was unveiled. The exact details were vague, but apparently it could help users channel the fire element. John briefly thought about using it for himself, but he was really considering it for Steve. Words were a great way to thank someone, but sometimes practical gifts were nice as well. There weren’t exactly an abundance of fire element cultivators present. If it was something of great value, it probably would have been taken to the Green Sands for auction or sale there in some regard.
Even Bashkim was uninterested in bidding, having already gotten the prize the Tenebach set their eyes on. Thus, John found himself the owner of a headband that was… surprisingly not hot at all. For something imbued with fire element, he’d expected it to be scorching, but it was in fact the opposite. Cool, if not a little bit chill.
In the end, John walked away from the auction much the same way he had from the one several years prior. Money meant a lot, but ultimately it had to be used wisely. He tried not to grin as he walked away.
Luctus was still busy with his cultivation, and John was gradually taking over more parts of the management of the clan from his father. Official transfer of being the clan head would likely take place sometime after his children were born and everything related to that. Until then, he still had important decisions to make… and some reasons to take personal action.
A report sat on his desk, previously sealed with Artsiom’s signet. A few months wasn’t suddenly enough for the young man to shoot up in position in the Diamond Trading Company, but most aspiring merchants like to have some sort of symbol to represent them personally. That did mean the available options got a bit crowded sometimes, but any individual would only deal with so many people who had crowns or gems or trees at any specific time. And if there wasn’t enough identifying about the mark, it wasn’t as if people didn’t still sign their names. The format of a letter wasn’t quite the same as on Earth, but still recognizable. Artsiom’s elegant handwriting sat on the desk in front of John as he prepared a letter for the man, thanking him for mentioning the opportunity.
The letter stated that a new dig site had opened up some significant caverns almost teeming with spirit darkness, and there was only a short time to seize upon the opportunity. John agreed, though the group he was putting together would not be rushed. Times were a bit risky, so he wanted as many Soul Expansion Phase cultivators as they could get, plus many of the Foundation Phase cultivators as backup. The clan had been anticipating something like this for a while, so many of their members had been recalled from other areas- the clan would still be well defended even with a hundred or so of them away.
John would be going himself. Negotiations might be in order- dig sites were made by people, after all. Someone had a claim on the region, and the Tenebach clan wasn’t so brazen to just snatch the area from them. Though that would depend on their alliances and attitude towards the clan. If they styled themselves as enemies of the Tenebachs, it wouldn’t hurt to take them out.
But when an inevitable conflict happened, it would be good to have some external witnesses. The Tenebach clan wasn’t without allies, and the Order of the Amber Heart was never all that far away. John would see if his ‘old’ friend Renato was up for a trip.